An adventurer with the perfectly cinematic name “Thomas Blood” tried to steal the English crown jewels in 1671. When Thomas was caught, the king of England actually rewarded him for his audacity. That was only one part of a life of adventure so notorious that when he died, the royal officials exhumed his body to prove Tom Blood did not fake his own death.
What Are The Crown Jewels?
A crown is a well-known symbol of authority, especially for kings and queens. A person can be crowned homecoming queen. King Charles III recently was crowned King of England.
The crown jewels in our story are the symbols of power (“regalia”) used by the British monarch. They do not just include the crown itself or the actual “crown jewels” found in it but “orbs, sceptres, and crowns” that today amount to over one hundred items.
These objects can be controversial, including those other nations believed the British wrongly obtained. Many objects were added when Charles II ascended the throne in 1661. Many previous crown jewels were melted down after the prior king was executed.
Wait? The King Was Executed?
The 1600s is quite important in United States history because it was when the first settlements in America, including Jamestown and Plymouth (home of the Pilgrims), took place.
While this was happening, there were many struggles between powerful British kings and the Parliament, the body that represented the people and nobility. Things became so bad that in the 1640s there was open warfare. King Charles I was put on trial, convicted, and beheaded.
Oliver Cromwell became leader and the monarchy was declared over. Cromwell died in 1658 and the people wanted things to go back to normal. King Charles II was accepted as king as long as he gave Parliament certain privileges. He ruled until 1688 and then more trouble happened.
What About Thomas Blood?
Thomas Blood was born in Ireland, then fully under British control, around 1618.
A son of a successful landowner, Blood originally supported the king. He switched sides when it looked like Charles would lose. Blood eventually took the name “Colonel Blood.”
Evidence suggests he only advanced as far as a lieutenant. Anyhow, we see early on his style.
Cromwell gave him a large grant of land and appointed him justice of the peace. When the monarchy returned, Thomas Blood fled with his wife and son to Ireland. And, lost his land.
The Irish were not big fans of British rule. Taking advantage of this public sentiment, Blood conspired to attack Dublin Castle. He and his fellow conspirators would then kidnap Lord Ormond, the British official ruling over Ireland. He failed and fled to Holland.
In 1670, even though he had a price on his head for his attempted treason, Blood returned to England under an alias and practiced as a doctor or pharmacist. He then tried to kidnap Lord Ormond once again, this time planning to kill him.
Ormond was captured but managed to escape.
Attempt To Steal The Crown Jewels
Thomas Blood by now was not one to be overly careful, even though he had a price on his head for multiple crimes.
For instance, years earlier, he ambushed the military escort taking a former colleague to trial. Blood was badly wounded in the face and arm but was successful.
He was quite sure his nine lives were not up. His namesake was a chip off the old block. Thomas Blood Jr. became a highwayman, a thief, dying before his dad. Thomas Blood Sr. now decided to steal the crown jewels. They were not as elaborate as today. Still were worth £100,000.
The crown jewels were stored in the Tower of London and were open to public display. Blood disguised himself as a parson (Protestant priest).
He took a woman who pretended to be his wife and went to see the jewels. His “wife” pretended to be sick and the keeper of the jewels helped her. Blood returned later with some gloves, allegedly to thank him and his wife for the help.
Thomas Blood even pretended that he had a rich nephew who would be a great match for the keeper’s daughter. On May 9, 1671, Blood, his “nephew,” and two others came to see the jewels.
Blood attacked the keeper of the jewels (a 77-year-old man) and his crew took the jewels, including hammering the crown to flatten it and trying to break the specter in half.
Unfortunately for them, the keeper’s son chose that moment to come home. The conspirators were captured trying to run away with the jewels.
So Thomas Blood Was Executed, Right?
No. King Charles II granted him a full royal pardon and land in Ireland worth an annual income of five hundred pounds. And, his gang members did not get punished.
Talbot Edwards, the keeper of the jewels, was promised three hundred pounds compensation. And, apparently, never did receive the full amount. He died a few years later.
After being captured, Thomas refused to talk to anyone but the king himself.
The king should not have been too sympathetic, especially with his own father being executed, and constantly fearful of plots against his life and the life of his royal officials.
Things went down somewhat differently from what many expected.
What? Why Not?
Charles did have a soft spot for audacious scoundrels. He was amused when Blood argued the crown jewels were worth only six thousand pounds.
When the king asked him what he would do if pardoned, Blood is said to have humbly (perhaps) said “I would endeavor to deserve it, Sire!”
We do not know for sure why King Charles rewarded Thomas Blood for his audacity.
The best theory might be that punishing him would cause more trouble than it was worth. Blood had powerful friends and his extensive exploits also showed he had local support.
Maybe, Thomas Blood would retire from his life of being a thorn in the side of the authorities.
Thomas Blood’s Final Years
He did mostly become a respectable figure, showing up in the royal court regularly to advocate the claims of suitors to the Crown. Meanwhile, the damage to the crown jewels was fixed.
Thomas Blood could not stay out of trouble. He was sued and imprisoned after making some insulting remarks against the wrong person.
Blood was granted bail but soon died from a fever (the Duke of Buckingham never got paid). He was sixty-two years old.
His son Holcroft Blood, perhaps the “black sheep” of this family, did live on. He had great success as a military engineer. He joined the Royal Navy in 1672 against his father’s wishes.